America’s addiction crisis today is undeniable. Despite earning mainstream media attention in recent years, the number of opioid overdoses rose by nearly a third in just 14 months between 2016 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Overall, the number of drug overdoses and other consequences of addiction continue to rise. In 2016, roughly 64,000 people in the U.S. lost their lives to drug use, and more face growing concerns of hepatitis and bacterial infections as a result.
As the impact of addiction becomes more and more palpable, the solution becomes more muddled. From suggestions of capital punishment for drug dealers to safe injection facilities in some cities, there seems to be no true consensus on how to approach this crisis. At their core, these opinions may be influenced by the stigmas and perceptions associated with drug use and addiction.
To learn more, we polled 999 people, including those who’ve had an addiction and those with no firsthand experience, to learn how well they understand the nature of substance misuse. Read on as we explore how many people believe addiction is a disease, their opinion on how it should be treated, and who is ultimately responsible for coming up with a solution.
Even among researchers, the classification of addiction as a disease has been debated. While a majority recognizes the impact of drugs on the mind and resulting compulsive behavior, this perspective isn’t unanimous.
As we found, some demographics were more inclined than others to believe the neurological impact of addiction. Among political affiliations, 83 percent of Democrats said addiction was a disease compared to just 68 percent of Republicans.
Research suggests there’s no difference in the likelihood of having an addiction based on political affiliation, although there are certainly differences in the way lawmakers approach solutions to addiction. While the Obama administration approached addiction as a disease needing medical care, Jeff Sessions, under President Trump, has pursued an agenda in favor of harsher law enforcement instead.
Women (77 percent) were also more likely than men (71 percent) to see addiction as a disease, while African-Americans (78 percent) were more likely than any other race or ethnicity to understand that addiction is a disease.
Seeking a Solution
People who use drugs have historically faced severe stigmatization. For those with an addiction, this stigma can act as a barrier between drug use and support and care. Despite research linking addiction to the same medical causes and symptoms as any other disease, those experiencing substance misuse are less likely to be offered help than those with a mental illness or physical disability. Even some health care professionals hold these stigmatized perceptions, which can prevent those in need from seeking support or treatment.
Less than half of Americans believed society was responsible for the addiction crisis. That said, 59 percent of respondents identifying as gay believed society was an underlying cause of addiction. Overall, members of the LGBTQ community are twice as likely as heterosexual adults to use illicit substances, and roughly 30 percent have an addiction.
Those who were the least likely to see addiction as a disease were often the most likely to suggest society was responsible for the crisis, including men (38 percent), Asian-Americans (55 percent), and Gen Zers (58 percent). African-Americans were both the ethnicity most likely to see addiction as a disease and the least likely to see society as responsible for the problem.
Regardless of the substance or behavior, it can be hard to understand addiction if you haven’t experienced it firsthand. The internal struggle, self-doubt, and sense of dependence can be hard to articulate, often leading substance users to spend more time with people who share their habits.
As we found, people with a history of addiction were just as likely as those with no history of addiction to consider it a disease. Still, slightly more people with a history of addiction (64 percent) believed it was hereditary and were more inclined (47 percent) to consider it a crisis.
Seventy-six percent of those citing a past addiction believed they were responsible for their situation, and 46 percent suggested society was responsible. Still, onetime addicts were more likely (18 percent) than others to suggest no one was responsible for addiction.
If someone you love has an addiction, compassion doesn’t enable them – it can be the guiding force they need to seek treatment. As opposed to waiting for a substance user to ask for help, experts recommend friends and family encourage them to reach out for support instead. Studies also show friends and family can have a positive impact on a substance user’s motivations during the recovery process.
When asked if they felt sympathy for those dealing with substance misuse, people who had experience with addiction were more likely to express compassion. Those who had experienced firsthand addiction at some point were most likely to feel sympathetic for those dealing with an addiction to alcohol, followed by painkillers. Moreover, former addicts were 13 percent more likely to feel any sympathy for those struggling with painkillers.
Fair Use Statement
Knowing you’re not alone with drug misuse can often be very helpful. Feel free to share this information with anyone who may benefit from reading it for noncommercial purposes. Just be sure to link back to this page, so the researchers and authors behind it can receive credit for their work.